While it might seem that disease and war made it unlikely that someone would survive to old age in ancient and medieval times, many men and women did live on into their 60s, 70s and even older. A recently published book, On Old Age: Approaching Death in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, explores some aspects of being elderly hundreds of years ago.
Among the sixteen essays in this volume is “What Happened to Aged Priests in the Late Middle Ages?” by Kirsi Salonen. Salonen, a Research Fellow at the University of Tampere, uses Canon Law and ecclesiastical records to examine what happened with bishops, priests and clerics as they got older. She notes that while Canon Law made it in theory difficult for religious officials to retire, there were hundreds of cases appearing in Papal records where various solutions were worked out.
For example, Salonen notes there are “numerous entries in the papal register series concerning old priests who resigned their benefices in favour of someone who agreed to pay them a yearly pension.” For example, in 1477 Johannes de Meynringha, the priest in a parish church near Metz, France, resigned from his position because “he was over eighty years old and had health problems, and thus was no longer capable to carrying out his priestly functions.” In a papal letter signed off by Pope Sixtus IV, Johannes was assigned a yearly pension of 8 tournois, which would be paid by the new parish priest, Theodericus Raynoldi.'
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